Mr. Smink, each time we met, told us the history of the high school band, which boys had fainted in Memorial Day parades, which girls had soloed to applause during end-of-the-school-year concerts. Once, after we smeared another try at “Camptown Races” and blatted “Yankee Doodle”; Mr. Smink paused us to explain how even our music, all of it made by trumpets and trombones, traveled through space, how it would play forever on a frequency someone green or many-legged might hear.
He’d spiraled down from leading the high school orchestra to fourth-graders like us, repeating FACE and Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge as if Martians might love mnemonics. After we packed up and left, there were third-graders with rental horns and second-graders with school-bought tonettes, but he said he was only picking us to tell how his friend had been killed by music, his radio plunging into the tub when he reached for soap.
We understood nobody would die for the songs we were practicing, but we wanted to fill a bathtub, tip someone’s plugged-in clock radio into the water while “Sugartime” or “Tammy” or one of the other fifty year-old songs Mr. Smink loved was playing, zapping it mid-chorus on the launch pad. We imagined there’d be lightning, some Shazam! bolt of weather in the bathroom we would lock to keep away our parents.
One of us asked Mr. Smink if the electrocuted glowed like they did in cartoons, but he ignored her. Instead, he told us about the woman who claimed a cloud of light pursued her, how she brushed what felt like a man’s secret touch from her arm and it exploded.
Everyone went quiet for so long he told us to try “Oh, Susanna” for the third time that morning. Now we paid attention. We kept together and finished in a slow crescendo Mr. Smink drew from us by slowly swinging up his hands.
Then we blew our spit on the tiled floor and listened to Mr. Smink recite what he said were the theories for ball lightning: bubbles of burning methane; swarms of glowing pollen; throngs of electrified gnats. “it could be anything,” he said. “No one knows.”
None of us laughed when he added, “Even the luminous crews who pilot their tiny saucers toward us, transfixed by the tunes you play.”
Gary Fincke’s most recent collection is Nothing Falls from Nowhere (Stephen F. Austin, 2021). His flash fiction has appeared recently in Craft, Vestal Review, Atticus Review, Pithead Chapel, Flash Boulevard, and Best Small Fictions 2020. He is co-editor of the international anthology series Best Microfiction.